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Understanding Your Leadership Style

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Eight years ago, Bob McSherry found himself losing his cool every day in his shop.

As the owner of North Haven Auto Body in North Haven, Conn., the self-described “hard-hitting” veteran shop owner was having difficulty getting through to his 19 employees.

“When you hear somebody yell all the time, it becomes background noise,” he says.

And after decades in the business, McSherry—and his blood pressure—had reached a breaking point.

“I came in one morning and it was like a revelation,” he says. “I pulled everyone together and said, I’m all done yelling and screaming.”

Since then, he has turned his attention to understanding and tweaking his leadership style to not only achieve his goals, but also to improve how he works with his staff.

Patrick Donadio, a leadership development and business communication skills coach, argues that effective leadership is less tied to the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated, and more closely resembles what he refers to as “the platinum rule.”

“The platinum rule says treat people the way they want to be treated,” Donadio says. “That doesn’t mean you have to change yourself or your missions for the organization. It’s just, how do you get people to help you accomplish that?”

That process of identifying how you lead your staff and how your staff would prefer to be led starts with a simple list of multiple choice questions and ends with the understanding of how to adapt your own leadership style.

Identifying Your Style

To start understanding your leadership style, Jonathan Purifoy, collision services sales manager at Axalta Coating Systems, recommends doing two things: taking a personality test, such as the DiSC personality classification system, and talking to your significant other.

“They’re going to have a perspective about how you lead at home, at church, or at cub scouts,” Purifoy says. “Ask them, what do you think my strongest attributes are as a leader? What are some areas that I stink at? Getting that external feedback is great.”

A personality test can provide more detailed insight into your natural leadership style. The DiSC test, for example, is composed of a number of questions that first identify the respondent as either analytical or relational, and introverted or extroverted.

After that is established, the test narrows down those traits into four distinct personality styles:

1.) Dominant (D) “If I’m a dominant person, I’m the extroverted analytical,” says Donadio. “I like data and I like to collect information. I know I can move quickly. I can think fast and I like to be in charge.”

2.) Influencer (I) “The influencer is going to talk a lot and is very people-oriented,” says Donadio.

3.) Steady (S) “The ‘S’ style is nonconfrontational, steady as she goes,” says Purifoy. “They don’t like change and are very loyal.”

4.) Conscientious (C) “The ‘C’ style is looking at problems from a data perspective,” says Purifoy. “They want to understand the pros and cons and examine the issue from all angles.”

But understanding your own leadership style is just the beginning. Purifoy also recommends that everyone on staff regularly takes a personality assessment to identify their leadership style.

“Knowing how your people approach problems and how they want to be involved in discussions is really important if you want to build a good culture at work,” he says.

Working With Your Staff

According to Daren Pierse, owner of the 50-employee Arizona Collision Specialists in Scottsdale, Ariz., a business is composed of nothing more than a group of personalities.

“As leaders, we need to understand that the car is the byproduct—that’s something that comes out at the end of our processes,” he says.

Any shop is going to have a diverse mix of personality styles. In fact, Purifoy argues that a mix of styles is necessary, given the varied positions and responsibilities in a shop. 

Identifying the leadership styles of that group of personalities is necessary to manage your staff and properly communicate your goals and messages.

“My whole concept is building a team,” Pierse says. “That’s my goal in any business: to get great, quality people with the right personalities in the right positions and them learning every day how to do their jobs better, faster and more efficiently.”

To effectively communicate that message, it’s all in the delivery.

The “Dominant” McSherry polishes up his blunt delivery with humor, and has learned to not make demands.

“You don’t point, you gesture,” he says. “I never tell anybody what to do; I ask them. And I don’t ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”

Pierse, on the other hand, manages his employees by directly addressing the differences in personality types in his shop.

“Our staff is our internal customers,” he says. “The painter is the internal customer for the bodyman, so the bodyman has to give the paint shop the vehicle in the manner that the paint shop wants it in.”

The problem was that while the painter was a detail-driven “C” personality, the bodyman was a more fast-paced “Influencer” who didn’t understand the detailed needs of the painter. To get the two departments to understand each other’s needs, Pierse had the painter and the bodyman make a “T” on a piece of paper. On the left side of the “T,” he had the bodyman write down everything he needs done when he receives the car.

“Then we say, when you’re done with the car and it’s going to paint, what do you think the painter needs from you?” Pierse says.

Pierse had the painter do the same exercise from his point of view, and then compared the two lists.

The lists were completely different.

They then walked through each point on the list and discussed the needs of both departments before agreeing on a standardized course of action.

Putting Processes In Place

Looking critically at the strengths and weaknesses of your natural leadership style is also helpful in creating processes to more smoothly run the shop. For example, Purifoy suggests talkative “Influencer” hold a daily 8 a.m. meeting with a designated list of topics to cover, while a reserved “Steady,” who is uncomfortable pushing employees and driving repairs, could implement a cycle time card to track vehicles as they move through departments.

For McSherry, understanding his sometimes-overpowering leadership style has meant removing himself from most staff meetings.

“My managers have meetings without me because you’ll get more feedback when the owner isn’t there,” he says. “Or I’ll have an outsider come in and run the meeting. I use my business development consultant from [Axalta]. It works very well because they’re unfiltered with outsiders.”

Assembling a Balanced Team

To start assembling the right team, Purifoy suggests conducting personality assessments on all new hires. Not only can the results help you determine if the candidate is well suited for the position, it can also help cover weaknesses in your own leadership style.

“As a leader, you play to your strengths but you’ve got to be aware of your weaknesses,” Purifoy says. “There are certain personality types where the guy operates from the gut. It might be as simple as saying, ‘How’s your closing rate?’ ‘Oh, it’s pretty good.’ If I like to make my decision from my gut and I’m not really interested in data, what I probably need to do is make sure that I have a staff person in the office who can run reports for me, understands numbers and can keep track of those key metrics.”

To balance his “Dominant” leadership style, McSherry only hires managers who demonstrate the opposite leadership style as him. He also pays potential hires to spend a couple days apprenticing in the shop to ensure they can handle the tough environment.

“There can’t be two of me,” he says. “I look for my managers to be easy going and willing to learn for the sake of learning. You want to be challenged, but they have to know the form in which to challenge you.”

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